2014 Nissan Xterra Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 18, 2014

The 2014 Nissan Xterra doesn't have many extras available, but it does accomplish exactly what a weekend warrior would want–plus it can go just about anywhere.

The Nissan Xterra is a rugged, off-roadable SUV that's ideal for a fairly small set of drivers: weekend warriors that need something not as rough as a Wrangler or FJ Cruiser, but still able to delve deeply into the woods with its big tires, high stance, and skid plates. It's specifically for those active-lifestyle drivers you see more in commercials than you do on the road, and for good reason.

The interior of the car is built with tough upholstery, extra store spaces, tie-downs for gear and easy-to-clean surfaces–borrowed from the Frontier pickup–making it look and feel just as utilitarian as the SUV's exterior. Simply put, it gives up some passenger comfort in the name of all-around usefulness--and particularly, usefulness in ways that a car or crossover probably can't deliver. For cargo and gear, Nissan has found ways to hone the Xterra's abilities, making it something of a Swiss Army knife. There's a double glovebox, a large center console, and a generous 35 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up—expandable to nearly 66 cubic feet with it folded forward. And to fit especially long items, like cumbersome sports equipment, the front passenger seat can fold forward to a horizontal position.Trims and panels tend to be made of hard plastic, but that's understandable given this vehicle's purpose (you'll want those easy-wipe surfaces).

The Xterra keeps it simple, with a platform that's shared with the Frontier--using a version of the frame and underpinnings employed in the full-size Nissan Titan trucks. While most utility vehicles have gone to a uni-body build, the Xterra's body-on-frame layout is up for regular trail clambering, while its 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine provides plenty of torque for off-roading or towing and works well with the smooth-shifting automatic transmission. The Xterra's ride can be pitchy at times, because of its solid axle and leaf springs in back, although on-the-road handling is decent.

All 2014 Xterra models but the Off-Road trims are available with rear-wheel drive, but the Xterra makes a lot of sense as a 4x4, as it offers 9.5 inches of ground clearance and an approach angle of more than 33 degrees. It's a part-time, off-road-oriented 4x4 setup, with high and low ranges, but Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, and the electronic stability control system all help keep it in check and make the most of its traction.

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The Xterra is unremarkable within its class for safety, with less-than-top ratings in the IIHS rear impact and roof strength tests but 'good' results otherwise. Several features that are included with the optional stability control system, such as Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, use electronics to help maintain poise in precarious situations. A rearview camera was added to last year's PRO-4X model.

The 2014 Nissan Xterra remains offered in a lineup of X, S, and that off-road-focused PRO-4X model--with the latter getting additional skid plates, a locking differential (on 4x4 versions), Bilstein shocks, and 16-inch off-road wheels and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires. This year, PRO-4X models get contrast stitching and seat embroidery, plus auto headlamps, an outside temperature display, a navigation system with rearview monitor, and a new Display Audio system with auxiliary input, USB port, and Sirius satellite radio compatibility.

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2014 Nissan Xterra

Styling

The interior's aged quickly, but the Xterra still looks like part of a rugged SUV.

The 2014 Nissan Xterra is boxy and buff, leaving few questions about this vehicle's intentions. It's designed like a traditional SUV–big, rugged and ready for the trails–and there's no indication that it'll get any softer anytime soon.

Nearly every line on the Xterra's body looks devoted to the practice of off-road travel–even its interior is built to withstand a little bit of rough-and-tumble action. The bulging fenders and high stance work well here, unlike so many silly add-ons for other vehicles, and its oversized off-road tires and its hanging spare on the rear make sense, as the average Xterra will probably see less pavement than most crossovers today.

And when you add options like additional skid plates and brush guards, we think the Xterra looks especially fashionable--perhaps fitting in a bit better at the beach than the rock-scrambling Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

The theme inside is universally rugged as well, with tough-looking upholstery, easy-to-clean surfaces, extra storage spaces and tie-downs all contributing to a look that means business. The only thing a little lacking is the instrument-panel design itself, which looks dated and feels a little more plasticky than it should.

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2014 Nissan Xterra

Performance

Street handling is adequate; the Xterra's a real trooper off-road.

The Xterra is powered by a 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6, which turns out lots of torque at low revs–making it a good fit for off-road weekend warriors.

That engine is offered with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, giving it more than enough power to jump off the line, and plenty of easy drivability for towing a trailer at highway speed or slowly descending down some of the most rugged terrain. The manual transmission has long shift throws, and we tend to believe that the automatic makes for a better highway cruiser.

All 2014 Xterra models but the Off-Road trims are available with rear-wheel drive, but the Xterra makes a lot of sense as a 4x4, as it offers 9.5 inches of ground clearance and an approach angle of more than 33 degrees. It's a part-time, off-road-oriented 4x4 setup, with high and low ranges, but Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, and the electronic stability control system all help keep it in check and make the most of its traction.

With an independent suspension in front and a solid rear axle in back, the 2014 Xterra drives like a truck, with a harsh and pitchy side on bumpy roads yet a reasonably smooth ride over most surfaces. Handling and body control are both better than you might think given the tall body and truck-derived underpinnings.

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2014 Nissan Xterra

Comfort & Quality

Actual human comfort isn't wonderful, but a rugged, roomy interior provides lots of space for adventurers and their gear.

Family utility isn't necessarily the Xterra's strong suit–instead finding its strengths in off-road adventures that include mud, gear, and drivers who favor camping over soccer practice.

Overall usefulness trumps passenger comfort in this traditional SUV, and it's useful in many ways that some crossovers just can't deliver. The seats aren't as supportive as some of the other Nissans in the brand's portfolio, but there's plenty of passenger room up front, and the rear seats can accommodate adults when necessary. However, that rear seat isn't somewhere taller passengers will want to spend much time, and we think it's probably more useful when the seat is flipped forward for extra cargo space.

Trims and cabin appointments in the Xterra, as with the Frontier pickup that it's closely related to, are a bit plasticky. But we wouldn't want leather or delicate trims here anyway; there are plenty of easy-to-clean surfaces. Interior noise could use more of a damper on the highway, especially in PRO-4X models, but otherwise the interior is relatively quiet compared to other off-road-focused vehicles.

For cargo and gear, Nissan has found ways to hone the Xterra's abilities, making it something of a Swiss Army knife. There's a double glovebox, a large center console, and a generous 35 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up—expandable to nearly 66 cubic feet with it folded forward. And to fit especially long items, like cumbersome sports equipment, the front passenger seat can fold forward to a horizontal position.

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2014 Nissan Xterra

Safety

Safety scores for the Xterra have been pretty poor.

The 2014 Nissan Xterra looks and performs with some machismo, but body-on-frame SUVs don't always do the best job of protecting their passengers in accidents.

However, the Xterra is well-represented in terms of safety equipment. Front active head restraints, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability control, and side-curtain airbags are all standard, and Xterras with automatic transmission get Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist--two electronic aids that may enhance stability. PRO-4X models also come with a rearview camera system.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't recently tested the Xterra, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a mix of ratings. The Xterra earns a top 'good' in frontal and side impact tests, but calls it only 'acceptable' for roof strength and 'marginal' for rear-impact safety. And that roof-strength rating is a bit worrisome considering the Xterra's tall center of mass and its ability to perform on precarious terrain.

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2014 Nissan Xterra

Features

The Xterra doesn't offer much in the way of luxury, but off-road options? It has 'em.

There are currently three trims available on the 2014 Xterra–X, S and the rugged PRO-4X–and each of those trims offers a solid set of features for the money.

The PRO-4X, the off-road specialist-within-a-specialist, gets additional skid plates, a locking differential (on 4x4 versions), Bilstein shocks, and 16-inch off-road wheels and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires. This year, PRO-4X models get contrast stitching and seat embroidery, plus auto headlamps, an outside temperature display, a navigation system with rearview monitor, and a new DIsplay Audio system with auxiliary input, USB port, and Sirius satellite radio compatibility. A Bluetooth hands-free interface is standard, only on the PRO-4X.

Even at the base level, the Xterra X includes power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; an AM/FM/CD player; keyless entry; and cruise control. The Xterra S gets crossbars for a roof rack; step rails; an Easy Clean Cargo Surface; a C-Channel cargo floor with moveable tie-downs; a gear basket; and fog lights--plus a tow hook in 4x4 versions.

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2014 Nissan Xterra

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage is one of the big low points in the Xterra.

Since the Xterra excels in off-road ability, it doesn't come as much of surprise that its fuel economy ratings aren't always the best in the business.

If you tend to have passengers more than cargo or gear, or if you do most of your driving on the road, rather than off-road, it may be worth considering a somewhat greener pick, in a more carlike crossover.

It's something to keep in mind if you're driving long distances; with EPA ratings of just 15 mpg city, 20 highway with the automatic transmission and four-wheel drive–and 16/22 mpg at best--there are some much larger SUVs and crossovers that are considerably more frugal on gas.

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